By Ndafadza Madanha
THE government of Zimbabwe is eager to adopt agropoles in a bid to transform agriculture by attracting private investment and mainstream youths and women into the sector.
Already government has overseen stakeholder engagement on agropoles and incubation hubs and four working groups have been formed namely; the production and processing; finance and investments; value chain alliances; and support services working group.
The envisioned agropoles are mainly centered on horticulture and restoring the sector to its past status, when Zimbabwe was exporting fruits, flowers and vegetables across the globe.
According to a policy brief by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) agricultural growth poles—also known as agropoles—represent a new trend in Africa’s agricultural development strategy.
In 2014, African heads of state committed to eradicating hunger and rural poverty through a transformation of African agriculture, including a call to move from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture. A number of African governments see these growth poles and corridors as a way to attract private investment to promote agricultural transformation.
Addressing a capacity building workshop recently hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture Youth Desk, director in the ministry responsible for Agricultural Education and Frarmer training Moffat Nyamangara said agropoles offered an avenue to mainstream youths and women in the sector.
He said agropoles if managed well could create employment opportunities for youths along the agriculture value chains.
“It is gratifying to note that today we are launching a strategic workshop initiated by the youth in the agricultural sector whose thrust is to set up of incubation hubs and agropoles. This will go a long way in supporting agricultural value chains.
The factors affecting the competitiveness of the horticulture sector through the whole value chain are an enabling policy regulatory environment; market linkages ;production and marketing infrastructure inputs and credit facilitation; and Coordination of players.
Through the participatory approach that this roadmap was developed, I believe the correct issues have been clearly included”.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy. It provides livelihoods to 80% of the population and accounts for 23% of formal employment. The sector contributes 14 – 18.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The major contributions to agriculture GDP are from tobacco, maize, cotton and beef subsectors. Horticulture is the 5th contributor to agricultural GDP. Horticulture also is 2nd in foreign currency generation. Crops such as Grapes and Coffee are part of the horticultural crops.
IISD notes in the last 15yeras Africa has seen the emergence of 36 agricultural growth poles and 9 corridors over the past 15 years. They cover at least 3.5 million hectares of land in 23 countries.
In the last four years alone, over a dozen agropoles were established in four countries: Cameroon (2013); Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (2014); Gabon (2016); and Ivory Coast (2016). Some other countries, like Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique and Togo are currently exploring the potential for setting up their own.
IISD contends increasing investment flows into agriculture and food systems in developing countries is desperately needed.
Over 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, of whom 70 per cent live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
When done right, agropoles can help boost production, generate employment, increase incomes and promote economic development.
But when done badly,IISD notes that agropoles can exacerbate existing inequalities, undermine the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and significantly deplete land, water, soil and other natural resources.
Ensuring that the new wave of agropoles and growth corridors are effective requires robust policies, laws and practices to ensure that investment leads to sustainable development outcomes.